Cheshire (or archaically, the County of Chester) is a county in North West England. The county town, and the location of the county council, is the city of Chester, although Cheshire's largest town in terms of area and population is Warrington. Other major towns include Congleton, Crewe, Ellesmere Port, Widnes, Runcorn, Macclesfield, Northwich, and Wilmslow. The county is bordered by Merseyside and Greater Manchester to the north, Derbyshire to the east, Staffordshire and Shropshire to the south, Flintshire and Wrexham in Wales to the west.
The ceremonial county has an overall area of and has a population of about 993,200.
The county is mostly rural with a number of small towns and villages that support an agricultural industry. It is historically famous for the production of Cheshire cheese, salt, bulk chemicals and the weaving of silk.
Because of the historical close links with the land bordering Cheshire to the west, which became Wales, there is a history of interaction between Cheshire and Wales. The Domesday Book records Cheshire as having two complete Hundreds (Atiscross and Exestan) which later became entirely part of Wales. Additionally, another large portion of the Duddestan Hundred later became known as Maelor Saesneg when it was transferred to Wales. For this and other reasons, the Welsh name for Cheshire (Swydd Gaerlleon) is sometimes used within Wales and by Welsh speakers.
In 1182 the land north of the Mersey became administered as part of the new county of Lancashire, thus resolving any uncertainty about the county in which the land "Inter Ripam et Mersham" was. Over the years, the ten hundreds consolidated and changed names to leave just seven—Broxton, Bucklow, Eddisbury, Macclesfield, Nantwich, Northwich, and Wirral.
Through the Local Government Act 1972 which came into effect on 1 April 1974, some areas in the north west became part of the metropolitan counties of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. Stockport (previously a county borough), Hyde, Dukinfield and Stalybridge in the north-east became part of Greater Manchester. Much of the Wirral Peninsula in the north-west, including the county boroughs of Birkenhead and Wallasey, joined Merseyside. At the same time the Tintwistle Rural District was transferred to Derbyshire. The area of Lancashire south of the Merseyside/Greater Manchester area, including Widnes and the county borough of Warrington was added to the new non-metropolitan county of Cheshire.
A referendum for a further local government reform connected with an elected regional assembly was planned for 2004, but was abandoned - ).
Prehistoric burial grounds can be found at The Bridestones, near Congleton (Neolithic) and Robin Hood's Tump, near Alpraham (Bronze Age). The remains of Iron Age hill forts are found on sandstone ridges at several locations in Cheshire. Examples include Maiden Castle on Bickerton Hill, Helsby Hillfort and Woodhouse Hillfort at Frodsham. The Roman fortress and walls of Chester, perhaps the earliest building works in Cheshire remaining above ground, are constructed from purple-grey sandstone.
The distinctive local red sandstone has been used for many monumental and ecclesiastical buildings throughout the county, for example, the medieval Beeston Castle, Chester Cathedral and numerous parish churches. Occasional residential and industrial buildings, such as Helsby Station, Helsby (1849) are also in this sandstone.
Many surviving buildings from the 15th to 17th centuries are timbered, particularly in the southern part of the county. Notable examples include the moated manor house Little Moreton Hall, dating from around 1450, and many commercial and residential buildings in Chester, Nantwich and surrounding villages.
Early brick buildings include Peover Hall, near Macclesfield (1585), Tattenhall Hall (pre-1622) and Pied Bull Hotel in Chester (17th C). From the 18th century, orange, red or brown brick became the predominant building material used in Cheshire, although earlier buildings are often faced or dressed with stone. Examples from the Victorian period onwards often employ distinctive brick detailing, such as brick patterning and ornate chimney stacks and gables. Notable examples include Arley Hall, near Northwich, Willington Hall, near Chester (both by Nantwich architect George Latham) and Overleigh Lodge, Chester. From the Victorian era, brick buildings often incorporate timberwork in a mock Tudor style, and this hybrid style has been used in some modern residential developments in the county. Industrial buildings, such as the Macclesfield silk mills (for example, Waters Green New Mill), are also usually in brick.
Cheshire covers a boulder clay plain separating the hills of North Wales and the Peak District of Derbyshire. This was formed following the retreat of ice age glaciers which left the area dotted with kettle holes, locally referred to as meres. The bedrock of this region is almost entirely Triassic sandstone, outcrops of which have long been quarried, notably at Runcorn, providing the distinctive red stone for Liverpool Cathedral and Chester Cathedral.
The eastern half of the county is Upper Triassic Mercia mudstone laid down with large salt deposits which were mined for hundreds of years around Northwich. Separating this area from Lower Triassic Sherwood sandstone to the west is a prominent Sandstone Ridge. A footpath, the Sandstone Trail, follows this ridge from Frodsham to Whitchurch passing Delamere Forest, Beeston Castle and earlier Iron Age forts.
Based on the Census of 2001, the overall population of Cheshire is 673,781, of which 51.3% of the population were male and 48.7% were female. Of those aged between 0-14 years, 51.5% were male and 48.4% were female; and of those aged over 75 years, 62.9% were female and 37.1% were male.
The population density of Cheshire is 32 people per km², lower than the North West average of 42 people/km² and the England and Wales average of 38 people/km². Ellesmere Port and Neston has a greater urban density than the rest of the county with 92 people/km².
The population for 2021 is forecast to be 708,000.
The area under the control of the county council, or shire county, is divided into a number of local government districts. They are Ellesmere Port and Neston, Chester, Crewe and Nantwich, Congleton, Macclesfield and Vale Royal.
On 25 July 2007, the Secretary of State Hazel Blears announced she was 'minded' to split Cheshire into two new unitary authorities, Cheshire West and Chester, and Cheshire East. She confirmed she had not changed her mind on 19 December 2007 and therefore the proposal to split two-tier Cheshire into two would proceed.
Cheshire County Council leader Paul Findlow, who attempted High Court legal action against the proposal, claimed that splitting Cheshire would only disrupt excellent services while increasing living costs for all. A widespread sentiment that this decision was taken by the European Union long ago has often been portrayed via angered letters from Cheshire residents to local papers. On 31 January 2008 the standard, Cheshire & district newspaper announced that the legal action had been dropped. Members against the proposal were advised that they may be unable to persuade the court that the decision of Hazel Blears was "manifestly absurd". The Cheshire West and Chester unitary authority will cover the area currently occupied by the boroughs of Ellesmere Port and Neston, Vale Royal and the City of Chester; Cheshire East will cover the area currently occupied by the boroughs of Congleton, Crewe and Nantwich, and Macclesfield. The changes are planned to be implemented no later than 1 April 2009, subject to a financial assessment of the proposal.
Congleton Borough Council is currently waiting to hear the result of its appeal against the judicial review it lost in October 2007. A decision either for or against the appeal should be announced before Easter 2008.
Halton (which includes the towns of Runcorn and Widnes) and Warrington are unitary authorities which form part of the county for various functions such as Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff, but do not come under county council control.
The ceremonial county, which includes the unitary authorities, borders Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire in England along with Flintshire and Wrexham in Wales, arranged by compass directions as shown in the table. below. Cheshire also forms part of the North West England region.
In the 2001 Census, 81% of the population (542,413) identified themselves as Christian; 124,677 (19%) did not identify with any religion or did not answer the question; 5,665 (1%) as belonging to other major world religions; and 1,033 belonging to other religions.
The boundary of the Church of England Diocese of Chester follows most closely the pre-1974 county boundary of Cheshire, so it includes all of Wirral, Stockport, and the Cheshire panhandle, that included Tintwistle Rural District council area. In terms of Roman Catholic church administration, the majority of Cheshire falls into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury.
Cheshire is a mainly rural county with a high concentration of villages. Agriculture is generally based around the dairy trade and cattle are the predominant livestock. Land use given to agriculture has fluctuated somewhat, and in 2005 totalled 1558 km² over 4,609 holdings. Based on holdings by EC farm type in 2005, 8.51 km² was allocated to diary farming, with another 11.78 km² allocated to cattle and sheep.
The chemical industry in Cheshire was founded in the Roman times with the mining of salt in Middlewich and Northwich. Salt is still mined in this area by British Salt. The salt mining has led to a continued chemical industry around Northwich, with Brunner Mond based in the town. More chemical companies, including Ineos (formerly ICI) have plants at Runcorn. The Shell Stanlow Refinery is at Ellesmere Port. The oil refinery has operated since 1924 and has a capacity of 12 million tonnes per year.
Crewe was once the centre of the British railway industry, and remains a major railway junction. The Crewe railway works, built in 1840, employed 20,000 people at its peak, though this is now less than 1,000. Crewe is also the home of Bentley cars. Also within Cheshire are manufacturing plants for Jaguar and Vauxhall Motors in Ellesmere Port. The county also has an aircraft industry, with the BAE Systems facility at Woodford Aerodrome, part of BAE System's Military Air Solutions division. The facility designed and constructed Avro Lancaster and Avro Vulcan bombers and the Hawker-Siddeley Nimrod. On the Cheshire border with Flintshire, Wales is the Broughton aircraft factory, more recently associated with Airbus.
Tourism in Cheshire from both within the UK and overseas continues to perform strongly. Over 8 million nights of accommodation (both UK & overseas) and over 2.8 million visits to Cheshire were recorded during 2003.
At the start of 2003, there were 22,020 VAT registered enterprises in Cheshire, an increase of 7% since 1998, many in the Business Services (31.9%) and Wholesale/ Retail (21.7%) sectors. Between 2002 and 2003 the number businesses grew in four sectors: Public Administration and Other Services (6.0%), Hotels & Restaurants (5.1%), Construction (1.7%) and Business Services (1.0%). The county saw the largest proportional reduction between 2001 and 2002 in employment in the 'Energy and Water' sector and there was also a significant reduction in the Manufacturing sector. The largest growth during this period was in the 'Other Services' and 'Distribution, Hotels and Retail' sector.
The county has produced several notable musicians, including popular artists John Mayall (John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers), Ian Astbury (The Cult), Tim Burgess (Charlatans), Ian Curtis (Joy Division) and Kerry Katona (Atomic Kitten). Concert pianist Stephen Hough, singer Thea Gilmore and her producer husband Nigel Stonier also reside in Cheshire. The county has also been home to several writers, including Hall Caine (1853-1931), popular romantic novelist and playwright; Alan Garner; Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, whose novel Cranford features her home town of Knutsford; and most famously Lewis Carroll, born and raised in Daresbury, hence the Cheshire cat. Artists from the county include ceramic artist Emma Bossons and sculptor and photographer Andy Goldsworthy. Actors from Cheshire include Daniel Craig, the 6th James Bond; Dame Wendy Hiller; and Lewis McGibbon, best known for his role in Millions.
Local radio stations in the county include Dee 106.3, Marcher Sound and Classic Gold Marcher for Chester and West Cheshire, Silk FM for the east of the county, Signal 1 for the south, Wire FM for Warrington, Wish FM which covers Widnes, and community station Cheshire FM which covers central Cheshire. The BBC covers the west with BBC Radio Merseyside, the north and east with BBC Radio Manchester and the south with BBC Radio Stoke. There were plans to launch BBC Radio Cheshire, but those were shelved in 2007 after a lower than expected BBC licence fee settlement.
The cities and towns in Cheshire are:
|Ceremonial county||District||Centre of administration||Other Towns or Cities|
|Cheshire||Chester (city borough)||Chester||Malpas|
|Congleton (borough)||Sandbach||Alsager, Congleton, Middlewich|
|Crewe and Nantwich (borough)||Crewe||Nantwich|
|Ellesmere Port and Neston (borough)||Ellesmere Port||Neston|
|Halton (borough) (unitary)||Widnes||Runcorn|
|Macclesfield (borough)||Macclesfield||Bollington, Knutsford, Wilmslow|
|Vale Royal (borough)||Winsford||Frodsham, Northwich|
|Warrington (borough) (Unitary)||Warrington||(none)|
|Derbyshire||Newtown, Tintwistle, Whaley Bridge (western part)|
|Greater Manchester||Altrincham, Bramhall, Bredbury, Cheadle, Cheadle Hulme, Dukinfield, Gatley, Hazel Grove, Hyde, Marple, Romiley, Sale, Stalybridge, Stockport, Wythenshawe|
|Merseyside||Bebington, Birkenhead, Heswall, Hoylake, Wallasey, West Kirby|
Lines also connect Chester to Crewe, The north Wales coast, Shrewsburry, Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool and Manchester (via Warrington). Crewe Station (the largest in the county) is a major interchange station with trains to north and south Wales, Birmingham, Manchester, London, Liverpool, Scotland, The east/west midlands, and South coast.
The Cheshire road system is made up of , which includes of the M6, M62, M53 and M56 motorways, with 23 interchanges and four service areas. The M6 motorway across the Thelwall Viaduct carries 140,000 vehicles every 24 hours.
The Cheshire canal system includes several canals originally used to transport the county's industrial products (mostly chemicals). Nowadays they are mainly used for tourist traffic. The Cheshire Ring is formed from The Rochdale, Ashton, Peak Forest, Macclesfield, Trent and Mersey and Bridgewater canals. The Manchester Ship Canal is a wide, stretch of water opened in 1894. It consists of the rivers Irwell and Mersey made navigable to Manchester for seagoing ships leaving the Mersey Estuary. The canal passes through the north of the county via Runcorn and Warrington.